Issue # 87 REVIEWS

New! New! New!  Zzaj PODCAST!

We now have 3 TOTALLY FREE CD's (with free cover art) available for download at our NETLABEL site!  The only thing we ask is that you scroll to the bottom of the page(s) & give us a REVIEW!  Please ADVERTISE this to ALL your friends... tell them we are GIVING AWAY music!

I've played in over 65 "bands" .  We will highlight a few of these bands in this (and future) issues. 

Featured Zzaj band for issue #87 - Midget Hill (these don't auto-start - CLICK the PLAY button to listen while you read our reviews - or don't, totally up to you!). 

This grouping featured  guitarist extraordinaire Russ Stedman, with me on Kurzweill PC 88.  The "theme" was a sort of parody on "Rubber Soul".   ENJOY!

Now playing: Midget Hill

Gene Ess - SANDBOX AND SANCTUM - SONG CYCLE FOR QUARTET:  Gene has produced some very adventuresome music on this CD... it's definitely jazz, but it's also uniquely creative and not mired in any "traditional" formula!  His guitars are superbly complimented by the high-talent of Donny McCaslin on tenor & soprano sax, Harvie S's bass & Gene Jackson's drums... I really loved the arrangements, particularly the "sectional" layout, wherein each player chimes in after an introduction on the opener (Free 2 Fast)that totally whets your appetite for discovery - exciting music indeed!  My absolute favorite cut, though, is "Noh Country"... heck, the title alone is enticing, but when the "odd-beat" drums kick in solidly under Gene's guitar line & then the reeds/bass join in the fun, I was ecstatic!  It's clear that all of Mr. Ess's musical training (which was significant) hasn't ruined his ability to play music that is "fun", for both player and listener... I doubt seriously that my interpretation of the title for the track is on-money, but I found myself picturing a country band trying to play these intriguing lines... full of humor indeed!  This is the kind of music that will "bring jazz back from the dead" state that players like Zappa implied it might have been in... totally invigorating & full of challenge... this gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "best composed jazz"!  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Al Conti - SCHEHERAZADE:  We haven't listened to such exciting "New Age" in a long time... & probably won't for some time to come... Mr. Conti weaves intriguing Middle Eastern themes into music that will enchant you (nearly) as strongly as the woman behind the veil on the CD cover. 10 compositions designed to put you in the relaxed mood you deserve, or inspire you to dream the things you've always wanted to dream... "sultry" and "seductive" are the words that come to mind while listening to his beautiful music.  The synthweaves on the intro to "Shahryar" will hold your ears spellbound, & when the percussion and flute kick in, you won't have any difficulty imagining yourself on the back of a camel wending yourself through a magical/mystical desert.  My special favorite track, though, was "Seven Veils to Midnight", in great part because of the robust and well thought out percussion sections - not to mention the superb recording quality.  For those who are fans of New Age, as well as those just beginning to explore this musical terrain, I give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  Get more information at  Rotcod Zzaj

Bruno Raberg - ASCENCIO:  This is one of Bruno's earlier releases that got "caught in between moves" - so I had already reviewed one of his latest in issue #85 before listening to this one... meaning I was already enamored of his music by the time I got 'round to this one.  Quite a different player lineup, but Raberg's splendid bass work is still clearly the focus.  My favorite cut on the album is "African Daybreak" - probably because of the intricate bass composition/structure, but moreso because I can clearly see myself walking along through tall grass fields watching the sun rise to greet me in an imaginary morning trek through unfettered natural vistas that are very pleasing in many ways.  A very nicely put together piece.  "Angle of Repose", the last track, came in a close second, though... Mr. Raberg's clear talent is the ability to weave musical scenarios that open your ears to visions you couldn't have without his magic strings to inspire them.  Our apologies for not getting through the stack, but it matters not a whit actually, because Bruno's style is timeless... this one gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Denny Zeitlin - SOLO VOYAGE:  What an absolutely interesting musician... in addition to being a practicing psychiatrist and medical school teacher, Mr. Zeitlin is also fully talented on solo keyboards.  Those who play keyboards on occasion (like myself) tend to "classify" a pianist with one or two word descriptors - what I think of from the opening note is - joy!  While I'm not in the habit of analyzing music to any degree, it's clear that Denny has the ability to inspire good feelings in his listeners without pretense or hype... his left hand bass line on the opener, "Bemsha Swing", is strong (& occasionally wanders off into those boogie lines all piano players love - at least this one), & that's where he just "bubbles over"... the track isn't just simple "roots boogie", it's a blend of some superb playing and very high spirited jazz dancing... it's a Monk tune, but Zeitlin kind of "makes it his own"!  He's been on the scene since the '60's (& perhaps even before), & his skill is clearly evident, especially on originals like (my favorite) "Cascade"... in the hands of another player, this would come off sounding like a "wannabe" player, but his relaxed stride and clear confidence just shine through.  When he slides into electric piano on "I Should Care", it's your EARS that will be electrified - sweet playing!  This is (truly) one of the best solo keyboard excursions I've listened to in many years, & gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "best piano jazz".  Check him out at   Rotcod Zzaj

Arturo O'Farrill - LIVE IN BROOKLYN:  Despite being the son of big-band leader Chico O'Farrill, he's not "in the shadow" of anyone... the keyboards are masterfully executed and full of life!  The second track in, "Walking Batteriewoman", is my favorite cut on the album... maybe because it opens to vibrant audience clapping, but more likely because his fingers are like silk lightning on Carla Bley's composition; he definitely makes this tune his own, & this one tells you "who" Arturo is... a PLAYER, & not (just) a "Latino" (though he clearly is that as well).  There is a bass run by Andy Gonzalez just over mid-way through the piece that is quite enthralling, & when Dafnis Prieto kick in after the bass solo (followed by the outro from Arturo), you know you're listening to pure excitement.  The only original cut on the album is the opener, "Vieques", from Andy... I'd like to hear some originals from Arturo on our next listen, as I expect they would be volcanic.  All-in-all some very refreshing listening, well worth the purchase price... I give it a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for any/all who love talented jazz!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Gene Ess - MODES OF LIMITED TRANSCENDENCE:  Something I rarely do is review the same artist twice in an issue, but when I sent my review of Gene's "Sandbox and Sanctum", the promoter told me that this one was "on the way"... it arrived the morning after her email... so, it must have been a "sign", eh?  The other reason for loosening up on that policy is that Ess's compositional skill is so superb that if you're in the neighborhood for the 4 January 2009 release party (Blue Note in NYC), you'll surely want to drop in to hear what he's got to offer!  "Trance Chant", the 3rd cut on the album, is my favorite piece, in great part because of the piano intro by Tigran Hamasyan, but guitar from Mr. Ess will have you enthralled as well!  "Ryo's First Flight" clearly illustrates the extreme talent your ears are being treated to... definitely my second favorite piece on this CD.  Gene's dedication to "all who strive to transcend the “horrors of humanity” and to live a heroic and magical life in spite of it all" struck me as particularly fitting for the transcendence we are about to embark on with the demise of one of the most horrible politicians on the face of the planet, especially when you consider that Mr. Obama's message is clearly one of life/hope... "Modes" inspires that kind of hope & gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me!  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Kakalla - THE VOICE OF TWILIGHT:  It's been a while since we reviewed this group (which features one of our favorite bassists on the planet, Thompson Kneeland) - issue #69, to be precise... this CD is an earlier outing, less electronic, but just as full of superb acoustic bass work!  Kneeland is joined by his standard lineup for Kakalla - Mike Connors doing drums and percussion, Jerry Sabatini & Nate Radley on guitar... the fact that these are all Kakalla originals amplifies the experience for me - it's a November 2004 release that we are just now getting 'round to (because of all our moving), but the music is timeless.  Another feature of this group's music is the integration of Balkan chamber music with jazz "forms", and though you might not think of that as a "legitimate" integration - think AGAIN... this is about as energetic & lively as jazz will ever get!  "Metamorphosis", the opener for the album, is my favorite on the album, probably because of Thompson's bass "story-telling"... he is able to weave the listener right into the fabric of the song with his intro, & when Jerry's trumpet kicks in, the change occurs!  Jazz listeners everywhere will agree when I declare this one as MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED... get more information at  (& tell 'em Zzaj sent you, OK?).   Rotcod Zzaj

Soulfood - MYSTIC CANYONS:  DJ Free is no stranger to the ears around our "In The Shadow" studios (in Olympia, Washington)... we've been reviewing "Soulfood" releases all the way back to issue #56 - very favorably, I might add!  This 'round features some quite totally engaging chants from Ojibwe elder Anakwad, as well as great performances from Rita Coolidge, especially on "Sky Creek".  The recording is flawless and rich in tone and mix, as are all of the musical adventures we've reviewed from Free... DJ Free is oka Gordy Schaefer (though I dinna' know that until I googled pretty heavily), & he has a shining talent for turning Native American musical heritage (or other cultural influences) into lush symphonic aural adventure that is timeless and borders on intergalactic.  We consider ourselves very fortunate to be included in the "reviewer" list for Soulfood releases... it took a while to get this one in the "review machine", but DJ Free's excellent music stands the tests of time... this one gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for any/all who love music from the spirit!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Carli Munoz - MAVERICK:  Some sweet piano from Carli - our first listen, & we fell "in love" right away... this, too, is from an earlier release (2005, I believe) out of our "catch-up" stack.  As you might expect, it was a Munoz original whose energy captured my ears in the immediate... "A Cool Night in the City" is more than just "cool", it's downright suave (& my favorite on the album)... his keyboard style is very unique & a full engagement for your ears.   At about 5:45, the bass from Eddie Gomez kicks in, & I'm transported to jazz/bass heaven... very intricate solo with very nice drums from Jack DeJohnette, almost 2 minutes long.  What shines through the most in Carli's piano is the expression of a jumpin' joy for life & the living of it... there are so many players (these days) who are only trying to impress you with their skill, but it's clear that Mr. Munoz believes in an axiom I firmly adhere to... if it ain't fun, it ain't music!  Don Byron's clarinet will just SMOKE you on "Three Little Steps to Heaven", another Carli original (though it would have been nice if it were just a tad longer)!  Any way you slice the pie, this is a superb jazz experience that comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us, to be sure!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Billy Childs - LYRIC: JAZZ-CHAMBER MUSIC VOL. 1:  We really do consider ourselves extremely fortunate here at Zzaj Productions... we get the latest & greatest music (especially in the jazz arena) in for review - & Mr. Childs CD is definitely among the best we've ever heard.  No, it's not "hardcore freeform", or so laid back that it can be accused of "smelling funny", either... Billy's piano is clearly the headliner, but he's joined by a whole host (16 including the conductor) of other very talented players that contribute their individual styles to the group so significantly that "Lyric" is impossible to ignore as a major musical accomplishment.  If you try to use this as "background", you'll be making a major mistake... it is some of the most creative composition I've heard in the last 5 years; & if you read through our back issues, you'll realize that's saying a lot, because we get the cream of the crop in here.  It's no wonder he has such high levels of skill and comprehension - he's been playing piano ever since his parents enrolled him for lessons at age 6!  If you want to catch a quick listen, check him out at YOUTUBE... but to feel the full weight of his passion for quality in music, you'll want to get this wonderful album - it comes (not only) MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, but is also the "PICK" of this issue for "freshest composition and best performance".

John Hart Trio - STANDARDS GREEN AND BLUE:  A 2006 CD we found in our stack that had been overlooked until we (finally) got back in our (original) Washington state "In The Shadows" studio... pure joy for the ears to behold, with John's excellent guitar, bass from Bill Moring, drums from Tim Horner and guest shots from Joe Locke on vibes making the music very enjoyable.  We've listened to his music before, reviewed him in issue #68... we liked the trio then, & dug it even more on this release... as they move deeper into the standards, particularly when it gets to "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans", the guitar seems to get funkier & funkier.  I really liked Locke's vibraphone on the opening track, "Lazy Afternoon", but it was a Hart composition that was my favorite for it's excellent blend of all the players, "The E Tune".  All in all, this will be a long-lasting pleasure for jazz lovers everywhere & gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from my ears.  Contact at  or via e-mail to   Rotcod Zzaj

Matt Turner/Bill Carrothers/Peg Carrothers - THE VOICES THAT ARE GONE:  What an absolutely refreshing CD...  I've been reviewing works from Matt (nearly) since this 'zine started, many of them in the "outer zone" of improvisation.  This trip takes the listener through many of the tunes we're all familiar with from Stephen Foster, but with a slightly different "feel", if you will... you have never heard "Oh, Susanna" with rhythm like this... a superb improvised adventure that spirits you away into a "south" one in our generations can only imagine - yet Turner is at one of the most relaxed paces I've ever heard him play at, too.  I've also listened to and reviewed Bill's superbly talented playing before, most notably in issue #76, but this is a first listen to the (often) hypnotic vocal talents of Bill's wife Peg... she will have you wrapped under her spell the moment you listen to her sing!  Turner opens the set with a beautiful improvised solo on "My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night I"... that flows right into the group's second interpretation of the same tune, & that's where you'll fall in love with Peg's vocal mastery.  I've always been impressed with the works that Bill and Matt have produced (even the one I'm on with Matt), as they show a dedication and grasp that few players ever achieve & let the listener know right away that they are listening to talent that won't soon fade.  I give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, and the "PICK" of this issue for "most brilliant improvised music"!  Get more information at  Rotcod Zzaj

Billet-Deux - DEUX:  If you've never listened to "Gypsy" music before, or the splendid jazz of Django (Reinhardt), this will be a perfect introduction to the style... I told Troy Chapman, the leader of Billet-Deux, that I sort of "grew up" 'round the sidewalk cafes of Europe, where this type of energetic and flowing music was often played... what I hadn't counted on (before listening to Deux) is how well Chapman and the other 4 players (James Hinkley, Josephina Hunner, Michael Yocco & Roger Bennett) have made this style "their own".  Best example of that for me was their rendition of "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans", my favorite track on the album. With summer coming, & the Seattle area so close (yes, they're from the Puget Sound area, right up here where I am), I expect I may soon see them in performance... heck, maybe as I'm walking to get my latte, who knows?  What I do know is that the group has extraordinary talent and an amazing ability to "hook" the listener and wrap them right into the enchantment they are painting sonically.  The words that come to mind are "substantive and joyful"... music with "meat on it's bones", yet not so serious as to detract from "life and the living".  I fully expect there will be many more albums coming from Billet-Deux.... keep your ears on them, to be sure.  I give this CD a (well-deserved) MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Wave Mechanics Union - SECOND SEASON:  It's not often I find myself so strongly attracted to rockers playing jazz... 30 (or more) of them, in fact, with vocalist Lydia McAdams out in front... the talent is audible in the immediate, and you'll surely be as impressed as I was with the skill shown!  Progressive rock tuneage from the likes of Sting ("Why Should I Cry for You?"), the Beatles ("Eleanor Rigby"), Peter Townsend ("Won't Get Fooled Again") & Jimmy Page ("The Rain Song"), just to name a few... it's Sting's "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" that wins me over to the Wave Mechanics Union, though... absolutely my favorite tune on the album.  The Rhodes/electric piano & convoluted rhythm shifts on "Elephant Talk" (by Adrian Belew; Bill Bruford; Robert Fripp & Tony Levin) comes in a very close second, though!  An absolutely smashing debut CD that will keep your mind moving in all different directions... gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me!  Get more information at  (& be sure to tell them that Zzaj sent you).   Rotcod Zzaj

The Stryker-Slagle Band - THE SCENE:  We're at the point of being "fans" of this group, since we've reviewed so many of their CD's now... the last review was in issue #78 for their "Latest Outlook" album.  This new outing is fresh and exciting, featuring Dave Stryker's guitar mastery paired with Steve Slagle's superb alto/soprano sax work... the most rousing track on the album (for me, anyway) was a Stryker original, "Strikology", my favorite for sure... excellent guitar licks supporting Steve's great reed work... just JUMPS, people!  For something a bit closer to "old standard" jazz, you'll also dig "Skee" a lot, too.  These guys don't hesitate to impress you & make no apologies (nor should they) for making you fall in love with their high talent... this is one album that dedicated jazz fans of all stripes will NEED to have in their collection.  I give it a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  Get more information on this high energy band at   Rotcod Zzaj

Amina Figarova - ABOVE THE CLOUDS:  I often get so wrapped up in "other things" (like the dreaded "day job") that I forget the excitement that abounded when I first listened to Amina's superb keyboards... we reviewed her in issue #70, & were highly impressed then... NO less so on this great CD.  Her piano skills far exceed many players on the jazz scene today (the name Hancock comes to mind), but it's clear that she is a natural-born leader as well... she plays her band like a fiddle & the resultant music is full of energy and creative spirit; it's clear from the headphone ride that the band was LOVING this!  If you want to see & listen to her in action, visit ALL ABOUT JAZZ... some splendid (& high quality) vids that show her intensity and love of playing.  If you can't do without high talent in your listening, Amina's the one to check out... this album is the best piano-led jazz experience I've had this year & gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "most professionally composed & arranged piano-jazz".  Get more information at - your ears won't be disappointed.  Rotcod Zzaj

Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker - TOWN HALL, NYC, June 22, 1945:  Our longtime musical pal Jim Eigo has been feeding us a steady stream of most interesting jazz albums lately, & this is one that caught my eye/ear right away... listening to the intro, you'll just HAVE to jump up & run in the closet to get your 1940's hat & spats... Dizzy & Charlie (along with Max Roach) are in absolutely FINE form, & you'll definitely catch the aura of those times as you listen through it.  The recording is a digital remaster, & done excellently, though (of course), you'll hear a few clicks & pops (or maybe you'll just think you do), but the album cover alone makes it well worth the purchase.  This is the "raw" stuff, yet it captures their blooming talent in full glory... you can bet we wouldn't have a chance to watch this kind of performance today if they were alive... Tricketmaster & other $$$-gobblers would turn it into a total travesty, to be sure.  The most outstanding highlight are great (extended) solos from both Diz & Bird... this ride into the past gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from my ears!  Get more information at ALLMUSIC   Rotcod Zzaj

Rick Frank - YELLOW MOUNTAIN:  It's the title track (also the opener) that gets my vote for "favorite track"... Rick's drumming & effervescence comes shining through... he's joined by a whole host of very talented players (6, to be exact) with the same bubbling-cauldron kind of energy for straight-ahead jazz - this will be a genuine "keeper" CD, not to be relegated to the "collection" .mp3 folder... it will instead be dragged to the TOP of the "favorites" folder, I'm sure!  Liner notes say that this tune (& the inspiration for the album) was from a visit to China's "Huang Shan" (what else - Yellow Mountain), with the idea of "capturing the power of the landscape" there... having been to similar sites myself (most of them in Korea, though a few in Thailand), I can feel the same sense of raw energy that landscapes like that create... especially when enhanced by the degree of creativity Mr. Frank shows in his compositions.  A close second for favorite track was "Island of Introspection" (Tom Davis), with some excellent percussion accompanying Rick's drums, as well as spot-on contributions from all the other players.  I'm highly impressed, & will surely look forward to new releases from this artist... MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, to be sure.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Dennis Day - ALL THINGS IN TIME:  No doubt the album title is double-entendre... because Mr. Day IS "in time"... some quite interesting music here featuring his very energetic & well jazzified vocals!  When I listen to Dennis's scat on "Caravan", I can't help but think "Al Jarreau" (though a slightly "larger" version, looks like)... the point, though, is Day can scat with the best of them... turns out this is my favorite cut on the CD.  The other one that really caught my ear, though, was "Sister Sadie" - talk about "JUMP"... Dennis will have you up out of your chair in only seconds, totally in "steppin'" mode.  Whether it's "the blues" or a pleasant rendition of "Desifinado", you'll find the listen thoroughly enjoyable & with lasting effect.  If you love male jazz vocals that put you in a great mood, you'll find "All Things In Time" an album you'll want in your collection... I give it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Greg Skaff - EAST HARLEM SKYLINE:  This is our first listen to Greg's excellent jazz guitar work & only his second Zoho Release - & it's already a regular on our playlists (we surely hope we'll get more of Greg's future releases - & yes, that is a "hint" to the promoter).  A great part of that may be the invigorating Hammond playing from George Laks & George Colligan, but it's also got much to do with fine electric bass by Darryl Jones (Rolling Stones, Sting, Miles Davis, Eric Clapton), drums from E.J. Strickland & drums/percussion by Charley Drayton (Keith Richards' X-Pensive Winos, Herbie Hancock, Fiona Apple, Paul Simon).  All around, this thing is a great listen and will keep your ears/soul engaged as though you were right IN that uptown club... I want to say with the "smoke drifting up", but I reckon they don't have clubs like that anymore, eh? Out of 10 tracks, 6 are originals, which definitely attracts me... players are IN to what they're doing, & that organ takes me back decades to the dark little jazz jaunts I began haunting a very long time ago.  I give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "most smoking jazz"!   Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Gregg August - LATE AUGUST:  We've actually been listening to this CD for quite a while now... when I went through ALL the CD's that were waiting for review (this one was released in 2005), this popped on my ear radar immediately... Gregg's bass work is superb, and his compositional skill is even stronger!  It would have to be, considering that there are a total of 11 players, including some (many, actually) who have been reviewed in our pages before, like tenor sax from Donny McCaslin, guitar by John Hart & plenty of others we've heard here before.  I was especially impressed with "M's Blues"... some wonderful interplay between August's bass, the horns & recording that just will NOT QUIT made this my favorite composition, to be sure!  "Melody in Black and Grey" is another challenging listen that came in a close second... what I find most attractive about Gregg's playing is that it's not "intellectual jazz", but it's far from the (dreaded) "smooth" blend that ruins the jazz experience for me; his pieces are full of life, energy & JOY!  This album will give you many hours of pure listening pleasure, and won't be relegated to the "back stack" any time soon... it gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Michael Brant DeMaria - SIYOTANKA:  Michael's flute works on this engaging CD will hold your ears in the spell he's able to weave, without doubt.  In addition to high talent and expressive playing, it's also quite interesting that Dr. DeMaria is an active psychologist who uses music to help in his therapeutic practice; I have quite a few other friends who use music as an aid to helping folks, but none (that I know of) fully degreed with full credentials in psychology.  This is the 3rd CD in his "Healing Sound Series", and listening to the wonderful music on it took me (way) back to my own experiences in beginning the healing process with the help of music; intimate, introspective and revealing are the best words I can use to describe what he does through his flute on "Siyotanka"!  One of the most intriguing cuts was "Three Trees", which held me spellbound - it's definitely my favorite on the album... a close second for favorite was "Grandfather", which tells it's own story with great percussion, shakers and chants.  There are a total of 12 grand pieces here, all of them winners that will transport the listener to the healing ground!  I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, & note that we hope to hear much more from Dr. DeMaria.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

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